Bellowhead - Mountford Hall
Live Review

Bellowhead – Mountford Hall, Liverpool

One of my favourite things about my transition into my late twenties is that I’m steadily realising that doing what you want and not caring what other people think of you is a much better way of spending your life than trying to please everyone else. So it is then that I’ve reached the stage where staying in on a Friday and Saturday is actually quite appealing, I rather enjoy a good sit down, and spending quality time with friends and family I really care about is much more important to me than necking five jagerbombs in a dismal club somewhere. For many reasons, on a rainy Monday evening in Liverpool after work, it’s a pleasure to be attending Bellowhead’s return to the city with my Mum and Dad. There was a time in the arrogance of my youth when my toes would have curled at the thought, but I was a bit of a dick then.

Tonight, the alt-folk troupe are showing no signs of slowing down on their 10th Anniversary tour, shifted tonight from The Philharmonic to Liverpool University’s Mountford Hall venue due to on-going construction and refurbishment work at the former. The Uni’s been through a long dry spell for decent shows and to give the O2 Academy (newly taking over the bookings at Mountford Hall) their dues they’ve done a great job on this, their opening night.

Following the release of their fifth album Revival earlier this year, it became clearer than ever that Bellowhead had far-reaching ambitions to take them further away from their folk circuit roots than ever before. The venues on this tour are, by-and-large, more theatrical, seated, distinguished affairs than the anything-goes knees-ups that made their name. It’s clear from their set choice tonight that here is a band slowly trying to transfigure into something a little more orchestral and cinematic than the village dance soundtracks they originated from – based on this performance, they’re managing this delicate balancing act with aplomb. One of their undeniable appeals is the ability to span the generation gap; people my age are here with their own children, I’m here with my parents, and people my parent’s age are wheeling around their parents, slowly jigging their knees in their wheelchairs. There’s something about the spirit of Bellowhead – what they stand for and the deep-rooted tradition of the Western folk that makes up their output – that is infectious.

This joyous approach to having fun is something that, as the band knock out genre-spanning folk grounded hits by the dozen, I suddenly realise is sorely missing from 99% of the gigs I regularly attend. There is no pretension with Bellowhead; no desire to be seen as untouchable rock stars or introspective genius, they’re just a bunch of musicians who love playing music and do it very well indeed. Front man Jon Boden makes for a charismatic and engaging focal point, flipping between violin and stunning vocal harmonies as his spangly pink jacket and tie flash over sequined shirt, pausing between songs to fill us in on the rich history and background of each of the traditional folk songs they plunge into with relish.

The eleven piece are, at times, positively spilling from the stage, all limbs and instruments in a frenzied jig that gathers pace with each track. During the somewhat rowdier second half of the show they finally hit their stride, after some slightly unfair heckling from the audience for “more dancing songs” propels a slightly sombre, Parisian-jazz-tinged performance of ‘Seeds of Love’ into an explosive rendition of the reeling ‘Jack Lintel’s Jig’ that has the entire audience on their feet within seconds. At the flick of a switch, Bellowhead are in their element, commanding the crowd and swarming the stage like a band possessed.

Across a near two and half hour set (yes, really – take note rock bands) tracks from earlier albums Broadside and Burlesque still draw arguably the biggest response – as they launch headlong into rousing renditions of ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’ and ‘London Town’ I feel myself compelled to rise out of my chair. Something bizarre is happening – I am clapping. My feet are stamping. I am singing along. I am almost dancing. I suddenly realise I am having a lot of fun. This doesn’t happen to me at gigs – I am jaded, miserable, too self-conscious – and yet, this band have unleashed something in me tonight that I haven’t felt for many years.

In the words of my retired Dad, who reels off the makeshift dancefloor dripping with sweat, “you can’t sit down at a Bellowhead gig”.

– Jamie Otsa

Venue: Mountford Hall, Liverpool
Support Band: N/A

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